One of the coolest genre films in the past decade that not a lot of people really talk about is the 2010 Norwegian film, Trollhunters. It was written and directed by André Øvredal, who hasn’t released popped up anywhere else since then. That is, until out of nowhere, The Autopsy of Jane Doe began making rounds at film festivals, where he directs a screenplay by Ian B. Goldberg and Richard Naing.
Aside from the opening scene, the entire film takes place in one small building, where we are stuck with Tony (Brian Cox) and his son, Austin (Emile Hirsch). They find themselves with a mysterious body from the sheriff of a girl that they simply named “Jane Doe” (Olwen Kelly). The sheriff wants a cause of death, so the father-son duo are to work into the night to figure out what the deal with the body is.
Of course, things take a freaky turn fairly quick.
Talking anymore about the film would risk spoiling it. Despite the claustrophobic setting, the film itself doesn’t really limit what it wants to do by nailing itself down to any particular subgenre, as it more or less borrows elements from many. It gives the story the chance to do some crazy and surprising turns with its scares, while also remaining fairly consistent once you figure out exactly what’s going on.
It’s a similar genre-savviness that I saw in Øvredal when he did Trollhunters, which was part found footage horror, part thriller, part dark fantasy. And just like Trollhunters, there is a very sly and very subtle sense of humor in The Autopsy of Jane Doe. It’s less situational and more from the characters. The characters are very well drawn and the performances only cement their believability. So, when something happens that is simply bizarre, their reactions can come of as not only genuine, but also appropriately funny at times.
And given that Jane Doe is given credit to Olwen Kelly makes it pretty clear that you aren’t just looking at a dummy. In fact, her being there gave the body an otherworldly feel that you couldn’t replicate with an effect because her actually being alive and performing as a corpse was an extra layer of creepiness that actually works for the film’s benefit. It’s a remarkable and dedicated performance, and one that should not be overlooked. Not to say that Cox and Hirsch aren’t any less great. They’re father-son dynamic is incredibly strong and you’re quick to root for them to figure out what is happening when things go down.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe may seem like it will wear itself thin, but it keeps things going in an interesting way for all of its 99 minute runtime. There is some fascinating subtext that creeps to the surface when the big reveal happens, but I will let you discover that for yourself. As a work of horror filmmaking, it only makes it clear that André Øvredal is a really gifted filmmaker, who is able to take material that could overstay its welcome and turn it into a great mystery with each piece of information that unravels being more intense and creepy than the last. And it is centered on three really great performances that also manage to elevate the material alongside the filmmaking. This is one of those small horror films that is definitely worth seeking out on the big screen. 80/100
IFC Midnight will be releasing The Autopsy of Jane Doe on December 21st in both limited theaters and VOD platforms.